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“Denuclearization”: The 21st Century’s Ongoing Disarmament Dilemma

An international symbol of peace, an olive branch- bearing white dove uses its wing to hold back the weight of nuclear arms
An international symbol of peace, an olive branch- bearing white dove uses its wing to hold back the weight of nuclear arms

Although many American citizens believe that the Korean War ended in 1953, armed conflict ceased merely by way of an armistice. This truce is one of the only things that “technically prevents North Korea and the U.S. – along with its ally South Korea—from resuming the war, as no peace treaty has ever been signed” (“The Korean War Armistice”). Since the Cold War, the conflict on the Korean Peninsula has been put on the back burner, but tensions still boil and the relationship with the United States still has friction (“The Korean War”). “Both sides regularly accuse the other of violating the agreement, but the accusations have become more frequent as tensions rise over North Korea’s nuclear program” (“The Korean War Armistice”). The diplomatic complexities of recent efforts to limit North Korea’s nuclear arms capabilities echo earlier attempts made in the 1930’s to attain disarmament.

In order to understand the geopolitical chessboard, it is important to understand different stakeholders and their issues add to the boiling tensions throughout the region. Since the armistice, the creation of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) has separated the peninsula into two different nations: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK (a.k.a. North Korea) and the Republic of Korea or ROK (a.k.a. South Korea) (Tilelli et al). In the decades since the Korean conflict, the northern nation has become a “Hermit Kingdom” (Strand), while the southern nation flourished in the modern world.

Besides the two Koreas, there are complex alliances among regional stakeholders. China, North Korea’s closest ally, “condemns its neighbor’s nuclear developments” but has opposed “harsh international sanctions on North Korea in the hope of avoiding a regime collapse and a refugee influx” (Albert). Russia, a neighbor of North Korea, supports a halt on nuclear tests and calls for North Korea and the United States to cooperate and reduce tensions (“Russia ‘Welcomes’ North Korea’s Nuclear Declaration”). Japan, a United States ally, “has called the prospect of a nuclear-capable North Korea ‘absolutely unacceptable’ and said the security situation…is the severest since the Second World War” (McKirdy). Along with threats to North Korean allies and American allies, the Korean Peninsula has also threatened the United States itself (“North Korea Nuclear Timeline Fast Facts). “Despite the difficulty of the challenge, the danger posed by North Korea is sufficiently severe, and the costs of inaction and acquiescence so high, that the United States and its partners must continue to press for denuclearization” (Tilelli et al).

As of the writing of this blog, the world is holding its breath due to daily, sometimes hourly, developments in U.S. – North Korean relations. While always fraught, the relationship between the United States and North Korea has been especially complicated since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. Using his unconventional (un)diplomatic tactics, he has made rude tweets and comments about the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. For example, on September 22, 2017, upon agreement with South Korea to “increase economic and diplomatic pressure against North Korea, Trump provocatively called the North Korean dictator “Rocket Man” (Hamedy). North Korea, in turn, successfully tested an “intercontinental ballistic missile” that landed a mere 210 kilometers west of Japan (Hamedy). North Korea has even threatened that it has the technological capacity to “reach U.S. soil with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles” (“North Korean Nuclear Negotiations: A Brief History”).

Remarkably, however, there also have been positive developments in the U.S. – North Korea relationship. On March 8, 2018, after a meeting at the White House with the South Korean National Security Advisor, President Trump suddenly agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un if North Korea “pledged to refrain from further nuclear tests and move toward denuclearization” (Vitali). Six Short weeks later, the two Korean heads of state shook hands and together stepped across the DMZ as a gesture of peace on April 27, 2018 (CNBC). Recently, there has been preliminary talks among the U.S., ROK, and DPRK officials about a proposed peace summit scheduled to take place on June 12, 2018 in Singapore (Diamond). Progress towards the summit was advanced due, in part, to the release of three American hostages from North Korea (Holland). At a future summit, the United States will try to persuade North Korea to “abandon nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests” (Holland).

However, recent remarks by President Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, have hurt the possibility for the summit. On May 16, 2018, Bolton suggested “that the White House was looking at Libya as an example of how it handled negotiations with North Korea to denuclearize” (Stracqualursi). North Korea took this remark as an “’awfully sinister move’” to imperil the Kim regime” (Stracqualursi). Thus, as of yesterday (May 17, 2018), plans for the proposed summit, seem to have completely fallen apart. Coinciding with Bolton’s remark, annual U.S.-South Korea military drills were used as an excuse by North Korea to suspend the peace summit (Cohen). Fortunately, there is still hope, as South Korea is “attempting to salvage peace talks with North Korea and play mediator for the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un” (Sampathkumar). From personal insults and threatening missile tests to diplomatic handshakes and proposed peace summits, diplomatic relations have been a wild ride. “Diplomacy between the United States and North Korea has gone through familiar cycles of long stagnation, followed by brief bursts of hope and then inevitable disappointment, typically after North Korea reneged” (Landler).

Global denuclearization is a critical issue of our time. The anonymously illustrated cartoon atop this blog (which originally appeared on “A Nuclear War Planner’s Guide to Resisting the Bomb- Infoshop News,” a blog by Robert Levering) depicts a white dove holding an olive branch in its mouth. Both the dove and the olive branch signify “peaceful intentions” (“Dove with Olive Branch as Symbol of Peace”). The dove in the cartoon represents efforts to fend off nuclear destruction. The weight of nuclear weapons, indicated by the “radiation warning symbol,” (Frame) bearing down on the achievement of peace.

With denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea, we must know what each party demands. The original definition of the term “denuclearization” is “to prohibit the deployment or construction of nuclear weapons” (“Denuclearize”). Unfortunately, this is not the working definition that either side, the United States or North Korea, is currently using. The United States, for one, wants North Korea to hand over its nuclear weapons and missile systems and allow international inspectors to check whether denuclearization is being upheld (Fifield). However, for North Korea denuclearization means mutual steps to eradicate nuclear weapons and requiring the United States to remove its nuclear umbrella (Fifield). The “nuclear umbrella” (Lewis) is a security arrangement in which participating nations consent to the possible use of nuclear weapons for their defense (“Nuclear Umbrellas and Umbrella States”). This is a danger towards the stakeholders for the United States, as the nuclear umbrella of the U.S. protects Japan and South Korea, however, there has been some other compromises on the table. For example, North Korea will relinquish weapons only if the United States ends its military alliance with South Korea. Unfortunately, the compromise of denuclearization seems far-fetched, especially since both nations have fundamental differences on the definition of what they are trying to achieve.

Each side of the conflict has fundamental differences on the definition of denuclearization. For its part, North Korea has declared a halt to nuclear testing but views its nuclear arsenal as an insurance policy for defending peace for future generations (Borger). The United States, on the other hand, has decided to sustain a policy of “maximum pressure” on North Korea until the demands of a completely denuclearized Korean Peninsula are met (Borger).

Jeffrey Lewis ponders the complexities of the term “denuclearization” in his opinion piece, “The Word That Could Help the World Avoid Nuclear War” (Lewis). Both “denuclearization” and “disarmament” are terms used in diplomatic negotiations to de-escalate tensions and prevent war. These issues are reminiscent of the early 1930’s when the victorious nations of World War I called for a discussion on arms reduction. Their attempts at international demilitarization, culminating in the Geneva Conference of 1932, were the subjects of an editorial – “Disarmament”—and an accompanying cartoon –“Sword is Needed”—published in the Dallas Morning News on October 29, 1932. The illustration, by John Knott, depicted the tax burden of maintain armaments to the common man and the difficulties or reaching widely agreed terms for disarmament. His cartoon illustrated the complexities of previous disarmament conferences and exemplified that the only way to solve the problem was with bold action to ensure peace. Both cartoons emphasize the burdens of armaments, the obstacles to global demilitarization, well as the fragility of peace.

Works Cited

Albert, Eleanor. “Understanding the China-North Korea Relationship.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 28 Mar. 2018, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-north-korea-relationship.

Borger, Julian. “US and North Korea Expectations over Denuclearization Appear to Collide.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Apr. 2018, www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/23/us-and-north-korea-expectations-over-denuclearization-appear-to-collide.

CNBC. “Smiling and Holding Hands, Leaders of the Two Koreas Meet at a Historic Summit.” CNBC, CNBC, 27 Apr. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/04/26/north-korea-and-south-korea-kim-jong-un-and-moon-jae-in-at-inter-korean-summit.html.

Cohen, Zachary. “North Korea Warn US as it Suspends South Korea Talks over Military Drills.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 May 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/05/15/politics/north-korea-suspends-south-korea-talks-us-military-drills/index.html.

Davenport, Kelsey. “Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy.” Arms Control Association, May 2018, www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron.

“Denuclearize.” Dictorionary.com, Dicotionary.com www.dictionary.com/browse/denuclearize.

Diamond, Jeremy and Kevin Liptak. “Trump Announces North Korea Summit Will be in Singapore.” CNN, Cable News Network, 11 May 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/05/10/politics/singapore-donald-trump-kim-jong-un/index/html.

“Disarmament Again.” Dallas Morning News, 29 Oct. 1932, p. 2. America’s Historical Newspaper, infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=P75K5CDYMTUyMjA4ODk3NS4zNDQ0OTg6MToxMzoxMjguNjIuMjUuMTgy&p_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-10483DD48E0961E6@2427010-10483DD50169304E@17.

“Dove with Olive Branch as Symbol of Peace.” Great Seal, greatseal.com/peace/dove.html.

Fifield, Anna. “North Korea’s Definition of ‘Denuclearization’ Is Very Different from Trump’s.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 Apr. 2018, www.washingtonpsot.com/world/asia_pacific/north-koreas-definition-ofdenuclearization-isvery-different-from-trumps/2018/04/09/55bf9c06-3bc8-11e8-912d-16c9e9b37800_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a3ce261fd107.

Frame, Paul. “Radiation Warning Symbol (Trefoil).” Radioactive Consumer Products, www.orau.org/PTP/articlesstories/radwarnsymbstory.htm.

Hamedy, Saba. “All the Times Trump Has Insulted North Korea.” CNN, Cable News Network, 9 Mar. 2018, www.cnn.com/2017/09/22/politics/donald-trump-north-korea-insults-timelines/index.html.

Holland, Steve. “Trump Seeks ‘Very Meaningful Summit in Singapore with North Korea.” Reuters, Thomason Reuters, 11 May 2017, www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-usa/trump-seeks-very-meaninful-summit-in-singpaore-with-north-korea-idUSKBN1IB240.

Huang, Jing, and Xiaoting Li. “Pyongyang’s Nuclear Ambitions: China Must Act as a “Responsible Stakeholder’”.” Brookings, Brookings, 28 July 2016, www.brookings.edu/opinions/pyongyangs-nuclear-ambitions-china-must-act-as-a-responsible-stakeholder/.

“The Korean War.” Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-us-history/period-8/apush-1950s-america/a/the-korean-war.

“The Korean War Armistice.” BBC News, BBC, 5 Mar. 2015, www.bbc.com/news/10165796.

Landler, Mark. “With U.S. and North Korea, a Repeated History of Hope and Disappointment.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Mar. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/03/06/us/politics/north-korea-us-history-negotiations.html.

Levering, Robert. “A Nuclear War Planner’s Guide to Resisting the Bomb- Infoshop News.” Infoshop News, 25 Feb. 2018, news.infoshop.org/anti-war/a-nuclear-war-planners-guide-to-resisting-the-bomb/.

Lewis, Jeffrey. “The Word That Could Help the World Avoid Nuclear War.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/opinion.avoid-nuclear-war-denuclearization.html.

McKirdy, Euan. “PM Abe Says Nuclear North Korea Greatest Threat to Japan since WWII.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Jan. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/01/04/asia/abe-north-korea-comments/index/html.

“North Korea.” Nuclear Threat Initiative – Ten Years of Building a Safer World, Apr. 2018, www.nti.org/learn/countries/north-korea/.

“North Korean Nuclear Negotiations: A Brief History.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, www.cfr.org/timeline/north-korean-nuclear-negotiations.

“North Korea Nuclear Timeline Fast Facts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 3 Apr. 2018, www.cnn.com/2013/10/29/world/asia/north-korea-nuclear-timeline–fast-facts/index.html.

“Nuclear Umbrellas and Umbrella States.” ILPI Weapons of Mass Destruction Project, 22 Apr. 2016, nwp.ilpi.org/?p=1221.

“Russia ‘Welcomes’ North Korea’s Nuclear Declaration.” Channel NewsAsia, 21 Apr. 2018, www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/russia-welcomes-north-korea-s-nuclear-declaration-10161832.

Sampathkumar, Mythili. “South Korea Attempts to Salvage North Korea Peace Talks and Play Mediator for Trump-Kim Summit.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 17 May 2018, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/trump-kim-jong-n-north-summit-south-korea-nuclear-weapons-a8356361.html.

Sang-hun, Choe. “North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/world/asia/north-korea-south-kim-jong-un.html.

Stracqualursi, Veronica. “White House Walks Back Bolton Comments after North Korea Outcry.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 May 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/05/16/poltics /north-korea-john-bolton-libya-comments/index.html.

Strand, Wilson. “Opening the Hermit Kingdom.” History Today, Jan. 2004, www.historytoday.com/wilson-strand/opening-hermit-kingdom.

Tilelli, John H, et al. “U.S. Policy Towards the Korean Peninsula.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, June 2010, www.cfr.org/report/us-policy-toward-korean-peninsula.

Vitali, Ali. “President Trump Agrees to Meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.” NBCNews.com NBCUniversal News Group, 8 Mar. 2018, wwwnbcnew.com/politics/white-house/south-koreans-deliver-letter-trump-kim-jong-un-n855051.

Disarmament: Knott’s Knot

A "Sincere Desire to Disarm" is the sword that could cut the metaphoric "Gordian Knot" binding exhausted taxpayers to the economic burdens of world armaments.
A “Sincere Desire to Disarm” is the sword that could cut the metaphoric “Gordian Knot” binding exhausted taxpayers to the economic burdens of world armaments.

At the end of World War I, a large portion of the globe was in shambles. The United States as well as other victors of the war gained immense power and enjoyed economic growth, that was very short lived. In the late 1920’s, the stock market crashed causing the United States and the world to fall into the longest economic crisis, the Great Depression (“The Great Depression”). The cartoon by John Knott, “Sword is Needed,” was published in the Dallas Morning News on October 29, 1932 to raise awareness about the political and economic problems that arose as different nations strived for a compromise on the specific terms for world disarmament as well as the high price that taxpayers paid in order to maintain national arsenals.  Accompanying the cartoon was an editorial, “Disarmament Again,” that discussed the obstacles to reaching a compromise on arms limitations at the upcoming Geneva Conference in November of 1932.

After World War I, “a general disarmament conference had first been proposed for 1925, but it did not actually meet until 1932 due to a lack of enthusiasm,” (“Disarmament”). The Geneva Conference of 1932 was about the limitation of arms, which ironically aroused diplomatic tensions across the globe. While non-attendance was one issue, once at the meeting many nations could not agree on the details requirements of arms limitations. No country would act, unless a different nation agreed to specific terms.

For example, the French Premier had prepared a plan that opposed the amount of drastic reductions on arms limitation that would be presented during the convention, while the United States and United Kingdom had held confidential negotiations on naval limitations (“Disarmament Again”). Although the United States and United Kingdom were the main superpowers to call for disarmament, the US threatened to build up the maximum amount of weaponry as a precaution because the UK was the strongest naval power. Italy had announced its willingness to cooperate on the limitations; Russia, on the other hand, had offered plans for complete disarmament (“Disarmament Again”). Meanwhile, Japan had declared itself to be compliant – but still demanded the necessity of naval defenses in order to protect its home waters against problems in the Far East. Germany, however, denounced limitations and demanded release from any limitations on arms. In short, so many different rivalries and points of friction, no one was willing to compromise, and there was no easy way to reach an agreement.

Understood against this historical backdrop, in Kott’s cartoon the large tank – labelled “World’s Armaments”—is a significant object—a point also emphasized in the editorial. The weight of the tank symbolizes the burden of armaments on each nation involved in the Geneva Conference. The utter size of the looming tank, even in the background, represents the scale and difficulties of reaching widely agreed terms for disarmament. Its massiveness represents the complex problems of national armaments and military budgets funded by the average taxpaying citizen.

In the foreground, a small man is tethered to the big tank. He is dragging the heavy burden of the “world’s armaments.” This beleaguered man represented taxpayers. As previously mentioned, this cartoon was drawn during the Great Depression. People in the United States, as well as abroad, were suffering from the stock market crash and barely had enough money to get by. The lone man representing exhausted taxpayers worldwide, slavishly drags the tank. He has no control over how his money will be spent, for arms rather than a prosperous economic future.

While dragging his burden, the taxpayer walks over an array of failed attempts at disarmament. The volume of scattered papers represents the many previous failures at compromise on numerous aspects of arms limitations (e.g., “Plan for Disarmament,” “Conference for Armament,” “Plan for Arms Limitation”).  This complex issue had been long discussed with little or no result. In Knott’s cartoon, the difficulties of previous disarmament conferences are captured in the paper titled, “Plan for Untying the Gordian Knot.”

Disarmament deals are like a metaphorical knot with different ends being pulled in different directions. This metaphor is very important to the cartoon. In the middle of the illustration, there is a giant, complex knot—a Gordian Knot—that binds the taxpayers to the tank. “Gordian Knot,” a proverbial term used to describe a complex problem that is solved through bold action (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). The origin of the term is traced back to Alexander the Great’s march through Anatolia to the city of Gordium (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica). In order to conquer Asia, Alexander the Great had to untie the complicated knot. Unlike his predecessors who had failed, with a swift move of his sword, Alexander cut the knot. John Knott’s cartoon implies that similarly bold action was required to achieve disarmament at the Geneva Conference. The complicated puzzle, or knot, of trying to please every nation and honor their preferences for arms limitations could only be achieved if every country attending the conference had the “sincere desire to disarm.”

 

Works Cited

“Disarmament.” Europe since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction, edited by John Merriam and Jay Winter, vol. 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006, pp. 854-863. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.utexas.edu/apps/doc/CX3447000280/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GRVL&xid=e4c44852. Accessed 27 Mar. 2018

“Disarmament Again.” Dallas Morning News, 29 Oct. 1932, p. 2. America’s Historical Newspaper, infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=P75K5CDYMTUyMjA4ODk3NS4zNDQ0OTg6MToxMzoxMjguNjIuMjUuMTgy&p_docref=v2:0F99DDB671832188@EANX-10483DD48E0961E6@2427010-10483DD50169304E@17.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Gordian Knot.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2 Jan. 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Gordian-knot

“The Great Depression.” Ushistory.org, Independence Hall Association, www.ushistory.org/us/48.asp

Knott, John. “Sword Is Needed.” Dallas Morning News, 29th ed., 29 Oct.1932, p.2.

Patch, Buel W. “World Disarmament Conference of 1932.” Editorial Research Reports 1932, vol. I, CQ Press, 1932, pp.1-20. CQ Researcher, 28 Mar. 2018 library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre1932010500.